Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

How to link the three strands of the specification

One of the most attractive features of the course is the fact that it allows students to engage with issues which are of topical interest, and where the science is often still uncertain. Many of the topics are of this type. These issues provide the framework for the text book and scheme of work, but the real foundations of the course are the ideas about How Science Works which are applicable to a much wider range of current and future issues. At the same time many of the issues require an understanding of the key science explanations.

How Science Works
Most school science is about well established theories and techniques, much of it necessary information about how the world works but of limited value in making decisions on current developments. Science in Society, on the other hand, is mainly about science as 'work in progress'. Public attitudes to new science and its applications can be very diverse. They range from a faith in scientists' ability to come up with the truth and to solve many of the world's problems on one extreme, to a strongly anti-science stance on the other which blames science for environmental problems and doubts the reliability of the knowledge produced.

Our challenge as Science in Society teachers is to teach our students how science actually advances knowledge about the natural world and about the many factors involved in decisions involving applications of science; so that they can develop a personal understanding which avoids either of the above extremes. They need to know why science does sometimes get things wrong in the short term, why scientists cannot always give certain advice to decision makers, but also that the methods used mean that mistakes are recognised and corrected over time and that a consensus does emerge eventually.

What we call ideas about How Science Works are a summary of the key ideas they will need to gain this personal understanding. Most of them do not appear explicitly in other science courses but are an integral part of this course. It is intended that they are learned through the study of specific issues and pointed out and applied wherever appropriate. Nearly all the activities on this site include the use of How Science Works. These are indicated in the Teacher Notes with reference to the specification. We have found that as students progress through the course they gradually gain confidence in using the ideas and in identifying them for themselves.

Science Explanations
Much of the scientific knowledge and understanding in this course should be familiar from GCSE. It is usually possible to teach the science explanations within the contexts of the issues. Ideally, it should be clear to a student that they need to learn about the science in order to discuss risk, or ethical issues, or how science works. Don't be tempted to cover the science in too much depth, it will take up time that could be spent in activities involving active engagement with the issues. The emphasis here is on the 'big ideas' in science, rather than the detailed knowledge of examples.